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January 29, 2011


Deckmasters- Garfield vs Finkel: Finkel’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

It’s an intriguing thing about these decks, which one might similarly feel playing one of the World Championship decks, is that they are the exact deck that a noteable Magic player sat down to duel with some time in the past. The 60 chosen cards, the opening grip of seven, the decisions whether to mull or to keep… Jon Finkel and Richard Garfield both once sat down and pondered precisely the same, giving the decks something of a historical feel. It was in this spirit of historical reenactment that Jimi and I sat down to do battle. With her in Garfield’s chair and I in Finkel’s, here are our match notes.

Game One

On the play, Jimi begins with a Mountain, while I pop a Dark Ritual off of a Swamp to get a quick start with a Lim-Dûl’s High Guard. I can’t regenrerate him if Jimi has an answer, but I deem it an acceptable risk. Jimi has nothing but another land, though, as I come in for 2 and first blood. Playing my second land, the High Guard is safe for now.

On turn three, though, she’s fielded some defense- a Phyrexian War Beast. Now it’s my turn for a draw, play land, pass turn, and it’s back to her. She swings in with the Beast, but I have an unexpected surprise. I first hit the Beast with Guerrilla Tactics for 2, then move my High Guard in front of it to finish it off with first strike. The Beast blows up and heads for the graveyard, pinging Jimi for a point and forcing the sacrifice of a land. The look on her face says that she’d had plans for that land this round, too. Looks like she’ll have to wait for that four-drop, so she plays a Woolly Spider and ends her turn. My joy is short-lived as I miss my first land drop. My turn is a blank, and I pass.

Jimi finds an answer to the High Guard with an Incinerate, which takes care of it good and proper. She then swings in for 2 with the Spider. My turn 5? Another blank.

Now on turn 6, I’m chewed on again by the Spider, taking me to 16 life, and Jimi follows that up by summoning a Storm Shaman. I draw into another Lim-Dûl’s High Guard and play it, once more taking the risk of not being able to regenerate it until next turn. I get lucky- no removal, though Jimi does play an Elvish Bard after attacking for 2 more with the Spider. Once again… my turn is a blank.

Jimi alpha strikes on turn 8, swinging with the team. I am forced to block the Bard with the High Guard, but I’ve been hiding another Guerrilla Tactics and look to repeat my earlier trick. Jimi has a trick of her own instead, responding to my Tactics with a Death Spark on the High Guard, killing it. Stuck at three mana, I can’t even regenerate it after having paid for the Tactics, so well played by Jimi. After the dust clears, I’m down to 10 life, with few prospects. I play a Foul Familiar, which avails me little, and pass.

It’s now turn 9, and Jimi’s going for the kill. Again all three creatures swing in, and I’m now at 4 life. Garfield appears to be getting the better of Finkel! I’m able to apply the brakes a touch after finally drawing a fourth land, swinging for 3 with the Familiar and playing a Goblin Mutant. Back to Jimi, she tries her luck with another Phyrexian War Beast, but opts not to attack. Things look even better when I manage an Icy Manipulator. I’m again tapped out, leaving my Foul Familiar vulnerable, but once again I take it as acceptable risk since I’m so far behind in board position.

Jimi bolsters her defenses with a turn 11 Walking Wall. Back to me, I score an Underground River, and tap out to nuke the Phyrexian War Beast with a Lava Burst. The nick takes Jimi to 13 life, and the land loss isn’t quite so painful, but I’m sensing she’s not a fan of the mighty Beast. On the upside, that’s placed a dead creature directly over the Death Spark in her graveyard, so she gets the last laugh by triggering it to come back to her hand and sniping my Familiar with it. A nice flashback to the days when graveyard order mattered.

Going on the attack, I tap down the Walking Wall with the Icy Manipulator and send in the Mutant for 5. Alas, my rally proves short-lived as Jimi untaps her board and shows a Lava Burst for the win.

Game Two

(Blame the crying baby, but we took a brief break here and when we resumed, Jimi was on the play. When we caught the error, we figured we’d just play on.)

Jimi leads this game with a Fyndhorn Elves, which waltzes in unopposed for a couple of points of damage before I’m able to muster a defense on turn 3 in the form of a Storm Shaman. Next turn, Jimi plays a second Elves, but not surprisingly the attacks have ceased. Now my turn to go on the offensive, I send in the Shaman for 3.

Now turn 5, Jimi counterattacks for 1 with one of the Elves, using the other to help squeeze out an Elvish Bard. We’re tied at 17 life apiece. I keep the Shaman at home, and add a Phyrexian War Beast to the ranks. I pay the mana cost foolishly, leaving a Swamp open rather than a Mountain, and can only kick myself when Jimi exploits my oversight by sending in the trio of elves. I’m exactly one point shy of being able to kill the Bard with the Beast and Shaman, so her two mana dorks get in for damage. I’m now at 15 life. She follows this up with a Yavimaya Ancient and passes. Back to me, I add to my forces with an Abyssal Specter.

Flush with mana, Jimi has a busy turn 7. First she swings with the Ancients, pumping them up to 5 power when I decline the block and leaving me at 10 life. Then she taps out to Lava Burst my Phyrexian War Beast (I swear, the things feel like they roll off the assembly line with targets painted on their heads), so I get pinged for 1 more and lose a land. That still leaves my Specters up, so I send them into the red zone. Jimi’s down to 15 life, and is compelled to pitch the Balduvian Bears.

Next turn, the craziness begins. Jimi sends in the team, and I burn a Dark Banishing to solve the Ancients. The Shaman blocks the Bard, so again her two mana dorks hit in for 2. That’s when Jimi shows the Jokulhaups, and just like that the board is in a quiet and pristine state. Maybe she had nothing in her hand, maybe she just wanted to throw some massive, game-changing chaos out there, but we’re both starting from scratch all over again. She would later confess that the Lhurgoyf in hand gave her the notion, because if it landed it would have been huge.

Unfortunately for Jimi, she draws into one land and that’s about all she gets. I meanwhile have little problem drawing several, and am able to rebuild with a Foul Familiar, Lim-Dûl’s High Guard (which she picks off with another accursed Death Spark), and finally a Goblin Mutant. Jimi’s not able to mount any kind of defense, and I close her out with a lava Burst for 3 following an attack from my beaters.

Game Three

Again with the Fyndhorn Elves- Jimi has Elves One and Two out in the first two rounds of the game, giving her a strong head start (and sending one in for a point of damage on turn 2. She lands a Folk of the Pines on turn 3, while I manage to stabilise with a Lim-Dûl’s High Guard (once again taking my chances on the regeneration). Jimi swings in with the Folk on turn 4 and I let them pass, taking me to 16 life. I figure I can suck up a little damage now to get my board state in motion, so I tap out to play an Icy Manipulator while my High Guard looks at me somewhat nervously.

Another three points of damage come my way on turn 5, followed by the Yavimaya Ancients. Meanwhile, I have nothing but a Mountain to play for my part. I drop it and pass. I tap down the Ancients to keep them from attacking, and ward off the Folk of the Pines with my High Guard. Getting clever, I leave myself deliberately exposed when I send the High Guard in to attack, damaging Jimi for the first time.

Now turn 7, Jimi takes the bait. After I tap down her Folk of the Pines, she sends in the Ancients and- with them unopposed- pumps them up to a 5/1 creature for the extra damage. Pitching a Foul Familiar from my hand and paying 1 life, I cast Contagion and kill the vulnerable Ancients, placing a second killing counter on one of her Fyndhorn Elves. Now with the game under control, I send in the High Guard for damage once my turn arrives, knowing I can keep her one offensive beater tapped down easily with the Icy Manipulator.

Next turn, Jimi comes in for 1 with the Fyndhorn Elves, leaving me at 12. I return fire with my High Guard, then follow up with a Phyrexian War Beast. Jimi has no turn 9 play, but I sure do- I send in both beaters for 5 and leave her at 9 life. I’m finally ahead, and celebrate by playing a second War Beast.

Jimi solves the Icy on turn 10 when she topdecks a Shatter (good thinking, Garfield!). With her Folk tapped down one last time, I send in the War Beasts and the High Guard. She chumps the Fyndhorn Elves, and is left with 4 life. I decide I’ve got things firmly enough in hand with the War Beasts to risk the High Guard, and I tap all three Swamps to play Necropotence.

Despite being an active player back at that time, I never once in my Magic-playing days resolved a Necropotence, for whatever reason. I’d drawn it about midgame, and it had been calling to me softly and sweetly ever since (let’s not forget, the copy in Deckmasters is a foil with the original art, no less). Perhaps that distraction is what caused me to go all in rather than saving the High Guard for defense, and then explosing the High Guard to play the Necropotence, but I was to pay for my folly. Oblivious to the dangers around me, I paid 3 life to the Necropotence and exiled my cards. Right as my turn ended, Jimi ended my High Guard with a Death Spark.

Untapping, Jimi then swing in hard with the Folk of the Pines, and finished me off with a Lava Burst. I looked down at the cards Necro had gotten me, including a Mountain and a Lava Burst of my own, and could only wonder at what might have been.

Thoughts & Analysis

There’s much more to the Deckmasters product than just the two decks, but we’ll leave that until the next piece (Garfield’s playtest) to cover. For the now, let’s look at how Finkel’s efficiency model performed.  

The short answer is, not as well as hoped. Far be it for us to critique Jon Finkel- remember, the decks were made under some very stern and unusual rules, so this is far from being a “constructed deck” let alone an “intro deck.” If we gave noted rogue deckbuilder Conley Woods a box of Islands and vanilla Merfolk, you’d hardly hold it against him when the deck failed to perform- there’s only so much one can do under certain circumstances. With that in mind, we’ll be refraining from sterner criticism on the deck.

That said, there was still some latitude with the card pool, and it Finkel’s strategy was not without its drawbacks. Certainly a deck filled with 3- and 4-drop efficient beaters will be very strong in the midgame. The drawback, though, is that by entirely surrendering the early game, you also are at risk for weakening your midgame. If you have five mana in play, how many creatures are you able to cast? One. The leftover mana potentially goes to waste, and you forfeit some potential tempo advantage.

This is particularly damning when it comes to the inevitable prospect of mana screw. It happens to all of us and is a constant of the game, but building a deck that comes to life at three mana will invite the occasional disastrous start if those three mana take their time in arriving. As always, the answer to this is the mulligan, but then the mulligan can only do so much. You have some influence over your hand- but none at all over your first few draws (outside of using a spell).

The product of a bygone era, this deck will have the most appeal to those who were playing when Ice Age and Alliances were legal. By today’s standards, they’re not the most exciting of constructions, as the creature curve has refined over time. Simply put, you get more bang for your buck in the modern beater, but that doesn’t mean it’s unenjoyable to step into the Magic: the Gathering time machine and revisit these ages of old.

Hits: Ultraefficient design model can yield a very strong midgame; superb rare selection with Necropotence and Balduvian Horde; good card consistency with heavy use of two-of’s (more than two was prohibited in design); heavy burn and removal suite; foil premium cards are visually beautiful

Misses: Downside to midgame command is weak early game and inefficient transition from mid- to late-game

FINAL SCORE: 3.75/5.00

Note: A self-contained product such as this is very hard to rate. Do we rate one deck against the other? Do we factor in the time period? Or do we rank it against other decks? In the end, we decided to weigh all three considerations, but to give the greatest weight to the final one. If you were to line it up next to another precon, how good is it? If you were considering purchasing one (typically at an inflated collector’s premium), how much fun is it? In short, we found that nostalgia fuels a lot of the value of this package, and as many (most?) players were not active at the time of release, it would not hold value against other options available today for the money.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Icehawk
    Jan 30 2011

    I recognize few of these cards, but I have to say I’d love to see some get reprinted. The PDS:F&L introduced me to Jaya Ballard. I nearly put Chandra in my Boros burn deck. Safe to say I booted her for Mrs. Ballard.

    I think you hit it on the head with nostalgia. Without having that, it’s okay, but I don’t see as much value in it as others. Just like in a few years, the same will be said about the first Duel Deck I bought, Divine vs Demonic, at almost twice MSRP. People would think I’m crazy. Probably still do, but Angels and Demons are what really caught my eye.

  2. Stric9 (aka Steve)
    Jan 30 2011

    I loved reading this article. It brought me back to the days when I first started playing Friday Night Magic. It wasn’t even called that then, it was just people playing Magic on Friday nights. I own most of a set of Ice Age and a complete set of Alliances. I could probably put together a similar deck with what I have. As always, the play test results surprised me. I’m interested to see how it works when it’s piloted by Jay.

    • Stric9 (aka Steve)
      Jan 30 2011

      Garfield’s deck, I mean.


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